Byzantine Captive Beading, or Chain Maille by any other name would smell just as pinchy.

ooh shiny pretties!

Friends!  Romans!  I have found a bead store!

I know that shouldn’t be super surprising, but the bead store I really liked closed a few years ago (or so I thought), and I hadn’t really found another local source for good beads, just a few antique shops that occasionally had the odd strand of mislabeled jasper or “Check glass” beads (insert facepalm here, please).  So imagine my surprise and utter thrill when I was driving around the west ends of town one Friday and discovered the bead store I thought was closed had, in actuality, just moved from St. Paul to Minneapolis!  Hooray!  Of course I stopped in immediately and came home with *ahem* a few new beads.

I used to do a lot of beading when I was younger (believe it or not, there was an awesome bead store in my hometown that one of the highschool kids opened when I was in middle school, so it was one of the few hobbies that didn’t involve a trip to another town for supplies!)  I still have quite a few beads, but my now-30 something self doesn’t have quite the same taste that middle-school-me did (though I will always love those little stone polar bear looking beads–you know the ones…adorable!).  So I haven’t done much with beads lately and even if I wanted to, my supplies were kind of…scattered.  In that “I have one of everything and can make nothing” sort of way.  But now that I know a good bead store just down the bike path from me–well, let’s just say I see more beads in my future.

But!  You don’t want to know about future beads!  You want to see now beads, yes?!  Of course you do!  My first beading project in a long time was a pair of earrings for myself.  I like long, dangly earrings, but I’m really picky.  I found a lovely pair of giant silver-tone cutout leaves at the bead store and built my way up from there.  I knew I wanted them to be really long (think collar-bone length), and the leaves are about 2.5″ on their own, so I just needed an inch or so between the leaf and the ear wire–and while I was wandering around looking for the perfect 1.5″ bead, I stumbled upon some very cool black & white round beads, but they were only 6mm across.  Not quite the size.  But they looked super cool–black on one hemisphere, white on the other.  So I added 4 of them to my horde and kept looking.

That’s when I spied a sample pair of earrings on display with this cool interlocking jumpring setup holding smallish beads inside.  And it appeared that the beads were not in any way attached to the earrings, just held by the intersection of the jump rings–so cool!  I surreptitiously took some notes (because the earrings in question were pretty expensive), then found some 8mm giant jump rings to try it out myself when I got home.

And that’s where the needle-nose pliers come in.  And where the pinchy bits start (needle nose pliers + my fingers + stubborn jump rings =  ouch).  I knew how I wanted to hold the bead in the rings in the end, but I had some trouble getting my fingers to make it happen, so I turned to google to find out how to make captive beads in jump rings.  Turns out, it has a name!  Byzantine chain maille, to be exact.  And once I could see how it was done, it was dead easy (I was, of course, over complicating things trying to get all the rings set up and closed before I put the bead in–no wonder it wasn’t playing nice!)  Much easier to close the rings over the bead and then add the top jump ring to keep everything closed and in place.

And so I finally made myself what I think are pretty neat earrings!  Once I figured out the method, it only took about 15 minutes to get everything assembled!

I love how these turned out, and they are exactly the length I was going for!  I get lots of compliments (and a couple requests for copies!) when I wear them!

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Almost…Too Simple: Pillow cases!

I know, I know…pillow case projects are for beginners, right?  Wrong!  Experienced sewing folks also use pillows!!  And generally have bits & bobs of awesome fabric squirreled away–who better to make awesome custom pillow cases?!

We’ve been doing a bit of camping lately, what with summer and all, and decided that in lieu of bringing our nice, comfy, regular pillows on dirty muddy camping trips (because washing mud out of pillows is super fun, y’all!), we should pick up some dedicated camping pillows.  In addition to never having to wash mud out of my usual pillow again, camping pillows pack down into itty bitty pillow nuggets–perfect for travel!  (We went with the small version of therm-a-rest compressible pillows, if you’re curious.)

Given my aversion to washing pillows (though at 12″ by 18″, it’s decidedly easier to wash these than standard size pillows), I decided that pillow cases were in order.  I didn’t really follow a pattern, just winged it, but I think they turned out pretty awesome, so I’m recording what I did here so I can find it again if I need to!

The main, burning question was how big to make the case.  The pillows are 12″ x 18″ x 4″, so I knew I needed a little extra wiggle room, and I knew I wanted a contrasting cuff & band.  I also had some scraps of fabric I really wanted to use together, and with a little creativity, I was able to squeeze it all together!  And in the process I think I came up with a solid formula for pillowcase sizing!

Pillow measurements:

  • length (L) = 18″
  • width ( W) = 12″
  • height (H) = 4″

Cutting out the pieces:

  1. For the main piece: cut a rectangle measuring (L – 1) by [(W +1.5) * 2], which works out to 17″ by 27″.
  2. For the accent ribbon: cut a rectangle measuring 2″ by [(W +1.5) * 2], which works out to 2″ by 27″.  (Or use an actual 1″ wide ribbon and save some folding and pressing).
  3. For the cuff, cut a rectangle measuring 12″ by [(W +1.5) * 2], which works out to 12″ by 27″.

Once you have the pieces, fold both the accent ribbon piece and the cuff piece in half lengthwise and press.  (I was piecing fabric together for the cuffs, so I actually cut out two pieces that were 6″ by 27″ for one pillow and four pieces that were 6″ by 14″ for the other and sewed them together to make the 6″ by 27″ folded-over cuff instead.)

Assembly

  1. Lay the cuff out on the table, unfolded, right side up.  Align the accent ribbon piece (still folded) along the top edge of the cuff.  Lay the main piece right side down, aligning the top edge with the cuff/ribbon edges.  Basically you sandwich the accent ribbon between cuff and main piece (which have right sides together).
  2. Roll the main piece of fabric up from the bottom, almost all the way to the top edge.
  3. Fold the bottom edge of the cuff over the rolled up main piece and align with the top edges where everything is sandwiched together, essentially encasing the main rolled up fabric like a sausage.
  4. Sew the lined up raw edges together.  Pull the en-sausaged main fabric out of the sewed up cuff to turn the cuff right side out and expose the main fabric and accent ribbon and hide all those raw edges where they all meet.  Press well and topstitch anything you want topstitched at this point.
  5. Sew the open side and bottom seams in one L-shaped sewing extravaganza (I used french seams to enclose the raw edges, but could use pinking shears or zigzag or serge to finish instead).

There!  Nice tidy seams, and super cute cases for the new camping pillows!

It was a really quick sew (took me longer to work out how to assemble everything neatly than it did to actually cut out and sew them up!).  And I really like how they turned out!  The cases are pretty snug, so for the next make I might add 2 inches to the width instead of 1.5 to give me a little more lee-way for my french seams, but otherwise I think I did pretty well!

We Can Build It. We Have The Technology.

When we moved into our house in May 2013, this was our kitchen:

Note the weird little nook by the back door…it’s not terrible or anything, but it makes the end of the kitchen addition feel kinda afterthoughtish (well, to me anyhow).  I know the silly little half wall is there solely to facilitate a heating duct (yay for heat–that floor gets COLD!), but still.  It’s an odd shape, not really wide enough for a table, and not quite set up for good storage.  We filled it with our little upright freezer and a small oak cabinet (about the same size as the freezer), and then, being our lazy selves, proceeded to pile random stuff on top of these two items at will.  Which made the nook super junky and chaotic looking, and wasted the top half of the space entirely.

As we unpacked and found homes for things, our grocery “pantry” ended up being one of the tall cabinets above the kitchen sink/counter here:

Which was great, but guys, these cabinets are really tall, and I am not really tall.  And John is not really tall.  So things started out nice and organized, but quickly devolved into “I’m too lazy to find a stool to put away this thing that belongs on the top shelf, so I will either A) throw it up there in the general direction of where it belongs and hope it sticks or B) shove it onto a lower shelf“.  You can probably see where this is going.  DEATH FROM ABOVE.  That’s where.  It got kind of ridiculous when I realized I was able to quite nonchalantly pull a can of beans off the top shelf using two rubber spatulas for leverage and grip.

We’d talked about putting in a pantry-type cabinet in the kitchen, and the attack of the killer hot cocoa tin convinced John it should happen soon.  So in late July, we drew up some plans, put together a cost estimate (haha, yes, we totally went there), and picked a weekend in August for construction.  (Hahahaha…one weekend.  Hahahahahahaha.)

It took three weekends, to be honest (because, apparently, you need to factor in time for paint to dry despite rainy weather, as well as the requisite three extra runs to Home Despot because you don’t have a list and/or ran out of screws).  But it is solid!  We made “ladder shelves” (I’m sure that’s not the technical term, but that’s what they look like to me) and used 1x4s as planks across the ladders.  The door is just a cheap(ish?) bi-fold closet door that we spray painted white…I really wanted a louvered door (pantries need good airflow, right?!).  We also decided to paint the interior bits (including walls) white so it wouldn’t be a dark cave–that was a great move!  And we had some fun with chalkboard paint on the plywood we used for the right sidewall.

We had some cookbooks that had been stored in the oak cabinet that still needed a home, so we hung up some πkea shelves we’d had in the old apartment kitchen–lucky for us the shelves juuuuuust fit (like an inch clearance on the side!), and of course, the freezer got to go back in its original corner.  Between the shelves and the freezer, there’s not a ton of chalkboard wall available for doodles, but I love the contrast of the black and yellow, and it’ll still be fun to scribble on our walls once the paint cures!

The whole thing didn’t come out exactly according to plan…apparently there were differing interpretations of my line drawings (just a hint, I suck at drawing, and doors apparently come in standard sizes unless you have a money tree in the backyard, so we had to build an unanticipated header since you can’t just go out and buy an 85.75″ tall bifold louvered unfinished door–I know, right?!).  And we discovered that the nook has absolutely zero square and/or level surfaces (fun!  fun!  fun!!  faen!!!).  I mean, the house is 104 years old, so I’m not surprised, but to illustrate our frustration–over the width of the pantry (34″), the left side of the pantry is 20″ deep, and the right side is 19″ deep.  Big difference!!

Mid-stream adjustments notwithstanding, I do really love how it all turned out.   And it holds SO MUCH STUFF.  All our piddly little appliances, all our pantry/grocery stuff, and even a bin for root veg storage on the floor.  It’s amazing.

Against the Grain

Some random off-topicness for you today.  As my hair gets longer (approaching waist now), I find myself finding wonderful new ways of putting it up out of my way.  I’ve progressed from pony tails to buns held with sticks, and I recently made a fork!  Yes, for my hair.  Out of wood, no less (and a decommissioned watch movement, but that’s just for decoration)!

It’s been ages since I did any woodworking of any sort (there was that one picture frame my dad helped me put together in college (because my Chat Noir poster absolutely needed a spray painted gold picture frame, dammit).  And that’s about it in recent memory.  My family is pretty handy and includes a few carpenters, so I’m passingly familiar with wood working stuff, but out of practice, shall we say?

Turns out, my hubby is also interested in wood working and has picked up a nice assortment of tools over the years (I knew we had them, but if pressed to find and/or use them?  Meh.)  Oh boy, I’m digressing in the midst of my digression.  So.  A few months ago, John acquired some 2×2 bits of bloodwood.  (Can we just ooh and aaaah for a moment?  It’s soooo pretty!).

And so I when I decided to make a hair fork, naturally, I appropriated one (actually, I think I traded a few jars of pickles for it…I think we’re square?).  I traced out the general shape of it and (with John’s help) used the table saw to cut a “blank” to then shape.  This went pretty well, but getting the center bits (between the future tines) was a bit of a challenge.  The router spit my first blank out, ripping off the most of one side in the process.  (Not cool, router…you can see the failed blank next to the almost-finished fork below.)

I finally ended up gingerly slicing the center bits out with the table saw instead, which…worked…but…I feel like there must be a better way?  Once I had the general shape set up, I started sanding with a Dremel.  Holy bananas, that is one cool tool.  Just using different sized sanding drums, I got the fork shaped and pretty smooth all over.  I did use a cylindrical hand rasp for the inside curve at the center (it’s a bit narrower than the Dremel head), but man oh man, Dremels are effective!

Once I got the shape, I sanded like crazy with finer and finer grit paper (sneaky trick, for sanding curvy areas smooth, wrap the sandpaper around the long neck of a screwdriver for easier sanding and less finger pinching!).  And John helped me use a Forstner bit to hollow out the spot for my watch movement…I was a bit unconvinced of my ability to drill straight down and stop before I got all the way through!  Not to worry, though…bloodwood is super hard, so the drilling was slow going after all.

I used mineral oil to seal the wood (so it’s not waterproof, but wow does the oil make the bloodwood shine!), then used some e-6000 to epoxy the movement into its slot.  The hardest part of the whole thing?  Letting the epoxy dry undisturbed for 72 whole hours.  Gah!!

Here’s the back side (and the un-attached movement):

I’m pretty thrilled with how it came out, and I already have plans for another one…bwahahahahahahahhahaha.

Refrigerator Pickles

Our garden has developed an interesting habit…at random intervals (with little to no warning), it will produce a cucumber the size of my forearm.  But just one.  This may or may not have something to do with a proliferation of weeds hiding under the cucumber leaves, obscuring cucumbers of smaller stature.  Maybe.  Regardless, when faced with a cuke (or two) of giant proportions, I turn to refrigerator pickles, for three reasons:

  1. They’re dead easy.
  2. They’re fast.
  3. They’re delicious.  And did I mention easy?

The great thing about fridge pickles is that there’s a tremendous variety of brines you can make, and you can really focus on the flavor instead of making sure the acidity is proper and safe for long-term storage (which should be a main concern if you’re canning pickles). Think of refrigerator pickles as more of a salad, if you will.  Take some poetic license!

I whipped up a batch on Monday before work, in fact, just to get my newest super-cuke percolating.  (See?  Fast!)  If you have a food processor with a slicing blade, the pickles can be assembled in under 5 minutes.  If not, you’re only as slow as you can slice!

For this batch, I added some red onion from our CSA, a pinch of dill seed, and a solid pinch of lovage-infused salt (also from our CSA!).  I use a standard fridge pickle brine (for sweet pickles) that consists of 1 T. salt, 7/8 c. vinegar, and 1-1/4 c. sugar per pound of cucumber.  You simply mix the cucumber and any other mix-ins you’re adding (thinly sliced onions and garlic are a great addition, but so are peppers and herbs!…think about 1 cup mix-ins total per pound of cuke).  Then mix up your brine (if you need a little more to cover, just mix up another batch in the same proportion).

Combine everything in a large bowl (make sure the bowl is NON-REACTIVE!!!  use ceramic or glass, but NO metal!).  Weigh down the cukes with a small plate, loosely saran-wrap the bowl, and let it sit on the counter overnight.

my sophistocated pickle-making apparatus: bowl + plate + saran wrap

my sophistocated pickle-making apparatus: bowl + plate + saran wrap

The next day, pack the pickles into jars if you like, top up with brine, and put in the fridge.  You can also just leave them in the bowl, but you’ll want to make sure it has a lid or your fridge will smell…pickle-y.

Since they’re quick-brined and not meant for long term storage, use the pickles up within a couple weeks.  And, if you’re like me and the garden keeps randomly producing new cucumbers, save your brine and keep using it!  A batch of brine can totally be reused to pickle once or twice!

Brine-tamed cukes & onions!

Brine-tamed cukes & onions!

Cold Shoulder Alteration

I bought a super cute dress to wear to a good friend’s wedding…

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…And it was super cute when it arrived, and fit like a dream…except, in that dream, my torso is apparently 2 inches taller than in real life.  Wah wah.  Side effects of this reality include seeing the top 1/2 inch of my bra, and looking generally quite frumpy from the waist up.  Not cool.

But it was cute, and I decided I would just alter the dress (since it arrived about a week before said wedding, I had *some* time…).  I started pinning in the side seams of the bodice, but that didn’t fix the bra-showing problem.  I tried on every bra I own, and all of them peeped out above the neckline–boooooo.

So I unpinned everything and debated 1) bra-less or 2) different dress.  If only the neckline were higher!  And then it hit me!  Pin up the shoulders and make the neckline higher!  I press-ganged John into helping me pin up the shoulders and poof!  It suddenly fit!  Turns out the waist was a bit low, too, come to think of it.  But!  Alas, the necklines do not match front to back…the straps in the back are much wider just a little ways from the shoulder seams:

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So pinning up an equal amount front and back did not look so hot.  For serious.  I turned to the trusty Google and looked at several tutorials (of varying degrees of quality…some folks may not mind seeing the former straps haphazardly hand-stitched under the new seam, but um…I’m not one of those people).  There are lots of good tutorials out there, if your front and back strap are the exact same width.  Or if you speak Chinese.  There are lots of tutorials where the pictures looked promising, but they were talking a million miles a minute in Chinese.

I finally landed on this awesome tutorial (from a local lady, no less!) that explained how to take the shoulder seam apart, That got me thinking.  If I took the seam apart, then took up the excess and sewed the seam back together, I could do a little whiz-bang reshaping on the neckline and be done.  (My deep-set fear of messing with armsyces had me a little afraid to reshape anything on the arm-seam side of the shoulder…plus, I didn’t want to lose the nice vertical line you get in a sleeveless dress like this…best not to poke sleeping mountain lions).  This was my basic plan….

UntitledTaking the seam apart didn’t take long…I ripped out (carefully!) about 3 inches on each edge from the shoulder seam back.  Then I pinned my new seam together on the fashion fabric (thus removing about 3 inches total) and sewed it together (right sides facing) using my sewing machine for a nice straight seam.

Then I tucked under the lining until it fit the new seam.  Hand-sewing now, I used the mattress stitch to attach the lining back to the side of the arm hole, first, since I wanted that to be super invisible.  Then I tackled the neckline side.  To fix the different widths that the straps now were, I tucked the back neckline in on itself ever so slightly to make the edges meet up, then hand-sewed the lining down on the neckline side, too!

Once the sides of the lining were firmly attached, I hand-stitched the folded edges of the lining together and poof! It looked like you’d never taken the shoulder apart at all!  I top-stitched (in black thread, b/c I didn’t have any navy–oops!) where I’d taken out the top-stitching when I pulled everything apart and it looks awesome!

The second side was super easy compared to the first (the mental gymnastics were already done, so that helped, I’m sure!).  And now I have an awesome dress that fits super well!  The only thing I didn’t think of…raising the shoulders an inch and a half ALSO raises the hemline and inch and a half!  So instead of being knee-length, the dress is now just above.  But it’s still cute (and totally appropriate for most occasions, though I might not wear it to a super formal affair!).

Overall I’m pretty happy with the alteration.  It sounded complicated, but I think if I had more time (i.e. not starting the alterations two days before the wedding!), I’d have been less stressed about it!

Singlespeed!

Remember back in August how I was all, “I’m totally going to build up this bike frame that John nabbed on craigslist (instead of letting him have the cranks like he planned) so the hubby and I have matching his ‘n’ hers bikes”?  (If not, you can read all about it here.)

Anyhow, we finally got around to getting around to that (I say “we” because John did a lot of the building on this one, I’ve never built up a singlespeed before, and there are some…unique…considerations involved).

We built both wheels, which wasn’t bad, we’ve built wheels before!  (If you’re looking for a how-to, check out this site…I don’t know of many other wheel building resources out there, but this guy covers it well!)

Assembling the drivetrain was a bit trickier.  Singlespeeds don’t have the luxury of being able to shift into an easier gear when starting from a stop, which means all the force of starting from dead still (or, say, stomping the pedals up a hill) has to be borne by the drivetrain without pulling the rear axle forward in the dropouts.  So it’s really crucial that the rear wheel stays put exactly where you need it even when you’re exerting a ton more force on it (if it doesn’t, the axle slips forward in the dropouts and you end up throwing the chain off the cogs and probably scratching your pretty paint job, to boot…booo.)  Enter the chain tensioner…it puts solid steel between the rear axle and the front of the dropouts, but still lets you fine-tune the exact fit (you know, to account for varying chain lengths/dropout depths or chain stretch over time).  No space to wiggle equals no thrown chains!

Then it was just threading the cables through their bright red housing, popping the brake levers and grips onto the handlebars, and grabbing a saddle off one of the other bikes!

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Doesn’t this bike just beg to go exploring?  And!  The best part is that we have a coordinating pair of his ‘n’ hers 1x1s!!

bike 1

Do you pedal around?  What’s your bike like?